Two planning commissioners fired, one resigns in protest

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Some speculate politics are behind firings.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

During a special Monday afternoon City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky and Councilmember Andy Stern fired their appointed planning commissioners, Chair Robert Adler and Vice Chair Deirdre Roney. In response, at the regularly scheduled commission meeting that evening, Commissioner Richard Carrigan said the afternoon’s events extinguished his passion for the job, and announced he was resigning.

Monday’s events stem from the actions taken by the Planning Commission at its Dec. 1 meeting (Carrigan was not there) at which it allegedly violated the Brown Act by discussing and voting on whether to hear an appeal by music producer Lou Adler on a future agenda, although the issue was raised during public comment and was not on the current agenda.

Barovsky and Stern said they had asked their respective commissioners to resign prior to firing them, but they had refused. The two said the commission violated the Brown Act through its actions during the meeting and by preparing in advance for the meeting an item that was not even on the agenda. They said the commissioners further opened the city to a tremendous liability situation by agreeing to hear an appeal on a 2-year-old permit against the advice of the deputy city attorney.

Barovsky said Roney communicated with Lou Adler’s wife, Page, prior to the meeting, and praised former Malibu Planning Director Drew Purvis’ abilities as a facilitator, who the Adlers later hired as their consultant. Barovsky said Roney then had conversations with Purvis and others about the matter prior to the Dec. 1 meeting.

“While there may be no laws against having such relationships and conversations, there is an expectation that those conversations and relationships be disclosed to the public,” Barovsky said at Monday’s council meeting.

Lou Adler told The Malibu Times that Roney recommended Purvis to his wife, but that no further discussion took place about the matter other than Roney explaining the process of going before the commission.

In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Roney said she had told Page Adler that Purvis was good for what she had used him for, but added that if Lou Adler took that as a recommendation, then she accepts it. But she said she did not think she spoke to Purvis about Adler’s situation. She said it did not cross her mind to mention those things at the Dec. 1 meeting because the item was not being heard. Roney further said she had planned to recuse herself from the hearing if one were to occur because of her friendship with Page Adler, which she said is not as strong as some people have been suggesting.

Councilmember Stern said he was disturbed that Commissioner Adler would not accept blame for violating the Brown Act. Stern said Adler wrote a letter to City Attorney Christi Hogin last week, in which Adler placed all the blame on Deputy City Attorney Gregg Kovacevich for not telling the commission it couldn’t talk about or take action on the item. Adler said that is simply not true, and that he does accept blame, but he said the purpose of an attorney at public meetings is to advise the body on the law, and Kovacevich should have done that. Regardless, Adler said his firing had nothing to do with the Brown Act and everything to do with his neutrality during the Measure M campaign.

Adler said when he sent a letter to the newspapers regarding the election, in which he did not take a stance one way or the other, an upset Stern called him. Adler said Stern demanded he write a new letter in support of Measure M. When Adler refused, Stern began looking for a new commissioner to appoint. Stern said that didn’t occur.

“He (Adler) had told me he was in favor of Measure M,” Stern said. “And I said if you want people to know that, you should clarify the letter. I never demanded he support the measure. I’m sorry that he feels that way. But it’s simply not true.”

Roney also said her firing was due to political reasons, as punishment for her public neutrality during the election and because of a fear she might run for City Council.

“Sharon told me I could either resign because of personal family obligations or my family and I would be the target of terrible accusations, and she hoped I had thick skin,” Roney said. “That certainly invites the perception of bullying perceived political opponents into silent withdrawal from public service.”

Barovsky said she never said that.

“I asked her to resign and I said something along the lines, ‘We both have friends and family in this town, neither one of us wants to go through a public firing.’ How that translates to some diabolical threat is ludicrous,” Barovsky said.

Barovsky went on to say that her motivation could not have had anything to do with a potential Roney City Council run, because Roney had told her she was not going to do it. Roney told The Malibu Times she has not decided if she will.

“I may not run because the personal attacks against me have really caused my children to suffer, and I’m not sure if I will put them through that,” she said.

During the commission meeting Monday night, a number of people spoke in support of Robert Adler and Roney. Accusations were made that the council’s actions were politically motivated. Others encouraged the two former commissioners to run for City Council in April. Potential candidates can begin pulling papers on Monday. Barovsky, who watched the meeting on television the next day, said she wondered if those same people would be quick to defend the City Council if it had violated the Brown Act.

Also at the meeting, the remaining commissioners suggested the dismissals had been a political act. Carrigan further explained his belief during a Tuesday interview.

He said Barovsky had wanted to get rid of Roney since she made a statement at a Malibu Bay Company Agreement hearing in April, criticizing the City Council for forcing the process to go too fast. Carrigan further accused Stern of being displeased with Adler for not being publicly supportive of Measure M. He added that there was a further reason for the councilmembers’ actions.

“It’s also to negate their [Roney’s and Adler’s] visibility,” Carrigan said. “Because they’re [Barovsky and Stern] convinced, as is Arnold York [The Malibu Times publisher], that one or more of the commissioners are running for City Council.”

Carrigan said when he got involved in the Measure M campaign as an opponent that he had no interest in running for council. When asked if the current situation had changed his mind, he said, “I still do not believe I will run for City Council. I don’t think this changes anything.” But he would not go as far as to guarantee he would not run.

In response to Carrigan’s comments, Stern said, “I’m sorry that Richard has decided to put a political spin on this rather than look at the facts.”